What is poetry? Poetry is. Inasmuch as life is, so is poetry. Here is the problem: life is very big and complex. Human beings are neither. We are small, simple beings that don’t want to know all of the myriad interactions happening all around us, within us, as a part of us, all the hours of every day. We much prefer knowing only that which is just in front of our faces, staring us back with a look of utter contempt. This is why many people are depressed.
Poetry is an attempt made by some to open up our field of view, to maybe check on something else that isn’t staring us in the face so contemptibly. Maybe something else is smiling at us, we think. So we write poetry to force ourselves to look away from the mirror of our existence to see something else.
This is generally painful. To make it less painful, poetry compresses reality a lot to make it more consumable. It takes life, that seawater, and boils it down and boils it down until only the salt remains, the important parts that we can focus on and make some sense of the senselessness of life. Poetry is life bouillon, and to thoroughly enjoy a poem we must put that bouillon back into the seawater of life and make a delicious soup out of it. To make this soup, to decompress the poem into an emotion or life, requires a lot of brainpower. A good reader will have this brainpower. A good poem will not require it.
What this means is: a poem should be self-extracting. It should be a rare vanilla in the bottle, waiting only for someone to open it and sniff it and suddenly there they are, in the orchid that vanilla came from, in the tropical land where it grew next to its brothers and sister vanilla plants. They feel the pain of having their children taken from them. A good poem leaves a feeling of loss and of intense beauty. The reader does nothing to achieve this—they are merely the receptacle of the feeling that the poem forces onto them. In a way, poetry is a crime. But it is the most beautiful crime on this crime-ridden earth.